April 2018, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Missile Strikes On Syria Were Of Dubious Constitutionality:  As Patterico reminds us, in this post.
The Constitution says Congress must declare war.  The President may conduct the war that Congress has declared, and can also act in response to sudden attacks.

Syria has not attacked us. Congress has not declared war.  Strikes like these are an act of war.  If someone did it to us, we would see it that way.

There is no constitutional basis for these attacks.  Trump should not be doing this.
Similarly, President Obama should not have conducted a war against Libya, without a vote in Congress.

(If I recall correctly, Obama used a similar excuse; like Trump he said he was protecting civilians.)
- 2:35 PM, 16 April 2018   [link]

Seattle Is Booming; Seattle is Going Broke:  The post just below reminded me that I had not mentioned that odd combination.

Despite the risng revenues from Seattle's boom (and a remarkable willingness of Seattle voters to vote for tax increases), the city of Seattle has managed to increase spending so fast that the current mayor, Jenny Durkan, is calling for spending cuts, or at least spending restraints*, so that the city's budget stays balanced.

(*As often happens, the stories were so vague that I couldn't tell whether she was calling for actual cuts, or just restraints on growth.)
- 9:37 AM, 16 April 2018   [link]

Essential Reading:  Robert Samuelson's column, "Both parties have a plan for the debt crisis:  Do nothing".
The Congressional Budget Office last week released its annual budget and economic outlook report, and although the news was gruesome, the report was greeted in Washington with a giant yawn.  The assumption among Republicans and Democrats is that the political rewards for curbing runaway budget deficits are too meager to justify the risks.  There’s a consensus to do nothing — and to hope that nothing goes disastrously wrong.

Just how large are impending deficits?  Here are the CBO projections.

From 2019 to 2028, the federal government will run cumulative annual deficits of $12.4 trillion.  The deficits — the gap between what government spends and what it collects in taxes — average about 5 percent of the economy (gross domestic product, or GDP).  Since 1950, deficits have equaled or exceeded 5 percent of GDP in only six years (1983, 1985 and 2009-2012), and most of these occurred after deep recessions.  These reduce tax revenue and boost “safety net” spending (unemployment insurance, food stamps and the like).
Samuelson blames both parties, but does not name the individual most responsible for this disaster: Donald J. Trump.  During the presidential campaign he promised us everything, tax cuts, no entitlement reform, increased spending on infrastructure and defense, and so on, without ever facing up to the fact that all these added up to a fiscal disaster.

If we don't change course, Trump will have a seventh bankruptcy on his record.

(Why did responsible Republican leaders, for instance, Paul Ryan, agree to this?  I do not know, though I do understand that they felt they were in a weak bargaining position with the Democrats, when the two parties put together that omnibus spending bill.

I don't think this Wikipedia article on our federal budget includes the latest CBO numbers, but it has enough background information to satisfy most.)
- 8:59 AM, 16 April 2018   [link]

The Latest "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me laugh out loud.
- 8:06 AM, 16 April 2018   [link]

A Hybrid Jet Engine/Rocket Engine?  A British firm is trying to develop one, and has gotten far enough to draw investments from both Boeing and Rolls-Royce.
Reaction Engines Limited (REL), the UK company developing a revolutionary aerospace engine, has announced investments from both Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

REL, based at Culham in Oxfordshire, is working on a propulsion system that is part jet engine, part rocket engine.

The company believes it will transform the space launch market and usher in hypersonic travel around the Earth.

The new investments amount to £26.5m.
It would start out as a jet, but then switch over to a rocket when the air became too thin.

For companies as large as Rolls and Boeing, those aren't large sums, but they aren't pocket change, even for them, either.

(Reaction Engines Limited)
- 5:23 PM, 15 April 2018   [link]

This cartoon made me chuckle.

(Apologies to my artist friends and relatives.)
- 4:54 PM, 15 April 2018   [link]

If You Are A Speculator, you'll be interested in this news from Venezuela.
Caracas Stock Exchange Stock Market Index

As of 4/13/2018
Day Range
12,416.060 - 18,480.740
There are more numbers if you want more.

This followed another very large jump on Thursday.

In a quick search, I found no reason that the Venezuelan stock market should be soaring, but thought the upward move was so interesting that I would share it anyway.

(If you are wondering why I have been following Caracas General, it's because it's one of the stock exchanges regularly displayed on the Nightly Business Report, and I have become amused by the fact that Venezuela still has a stock exchange.)
- 3:19 PM, 14 April 2018   [link]

Here's The BBC's Description of the strikes on Syria.
The US, UK and France say their air forces and navies have conducted strikes on several sites in Syria, firing 105 missiles.
And here's the BBC's skeptical analysis.
Now the hope is that Mr Assad will change his behaviour.  But what about the wider Syrian conflict?  This brutal war shows no sign of ending.  Many have pointed out that it is barrel bombs, artillery and bullets that are responsible for the overwhelming bulk of the deaths and mutilations in Syria, not chemical weapons, and yet it is these that prompt Western action.

There is a good measure of truth in this sentiment, though for historical and cultural reasons chemical weapons have a particular horror in the West in the wake of their use in World War One.  The treaty banning them is an important disarmament agreement and its weakening threatens to unwind years of progress.

But the wider question is to what extent these latest strikes change the picture in Syria?  Do they bring the conflict any closer to an end?  Sadly the answer is almost certainly no.
Sadly, I share that skepticism.
- 11:34 AM, 14 April 2018   [link]

The Latest "Pepper . . . And Salt" made me laugh out loud.

Perhaps because I am a science fiction fan.
- 9:46 AM, 14 April 2018   [link]

For Some Contrast, here's what Gallup is saying about Trump's approval rating.
President Donald Trump's favorable rating, already low by historical standards, has dropped to 38% -- while his unfavorable rating is at 59%.

This marks a dip in his favorable rating from 41% in December last year.  It comes as Trump has escalated his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.  In contrast to Trump's overall image, Mueller's image is net positive -- 36% favorable and 28% unfavorable.
Who is right, Rasmussen or Gallup?

Probably both are wrong — you should expect any poll to be at least a little wrong — but it is almost certain that Gallup is less wrong than Rasmussen.

(The results of all those special elections is one of the reasons I think Gallup is less wrong.  Even in the Republican wins, their margins have almost always been much lower than in previous elections.)
- 4:56 PM, 13 April 2018   [link]

Matt Drudge Isn't Telling You The Whole Truth About Trump's Approval Rating:  Today, as he often does, Drudge is headlining a Rasmussen poll: "TRUMP APPROVAL HOLDS AT 50%".

This is true, but not the whole truth.

A glance at, for instance, the FiveThirtyEight average will show you that the Rasmussen result is an outlier.

As I write, Trump's average approval rating — which includes that Rasmussen poll — is just 40.7 percent.

And, if we look through the table, we find a recent Ipsos poll which found just 37 percent approval for Trump — which did not make Drudge.

(What should Drudge do?  At the very least, add "Rasmussen" to those headlines.  But most of the time it would be better to use a poll average.

To me, what is striking about Trump's approval ratings is just how stable they have been, so far.  You could say that collectively we have made up our minds about the man and are not going to let any new facts confuse us.)
- 10:31 AM, 13 April 2018   [link]

This Week's Collection Of Cartoons from Politico.

My favorites:  Joel Pett's guessing, Matt Davies's congressman, and Pat Bagley's Little Big Horn.

I have to admit that this week's collection will disappoint many — unless they really hate Trump.
- 8:23 AM, 13 April 2018   [link]

Is The UW Discriminating Against A Professor Because She's An Open Christian?  That's what Susana Asberry says.
Susana Asberry, an English as a Second Language professor at the University of Washington, told KTTH Radio’s Todd Herman that the university is persecuting her for her Christian faith.

Asberry is currently on probation for reasons she says she doesn’t understand.  She can only conclude that the university has it out for her due to her religion.
(Todd Herman is a conservative talk show host, as you probably guessed.)

I have no easy way of verifying her story, but, sadly, it doesn't sound implausible.
- 4:23 PM, 12 April 2018   [link]

The BBC Is Getting Nervous With All This War Talk:   Which explains this headline:  "Trump, Syria, North Korea:  Are we heading for a third world war?"

I don't think so, but do wish we had a president with better judgment.

(The passage of time may have made us group world wars with the smaller ones we have had since 1945.  These statistics from Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn may help us grasp the scale of World War II.
September 1, 1939, was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days, and it brought the first dead in a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hour, or 19 a minute, or one death every three seconds. (p. 5)
Atkinson is using a historian's estimate of a total of 50 million dead; as you can see, there are even higher estimates.

I have some minor criticisms, but I think Atkinson's trilogy is a fine history.  Barnes and Noble has a sale on it today.)
- 3:08 PM, 12 April 2018   [link]

69, 59, 49, And 39 Cents:  Those are the prices per pound, give or take a dime, for bananas at four grocery stores where I regularly shop.  And if my memory isn't failing me, those prices have been stable for a decade, perhaps more.

I think I understand the pattern; the first three are in the order of perceived declining quality (and the fourth is special).  So, though the three are selling the same bananas, they are also making signals about price and quality.

As far as I can tell, all four stores make a profit on the bananas they sell.

(The fourth is Trader Joes which sells bananas at 19 cents a piece, which works out to about 39 cents a pound.  The bananas look just like those from the other stores but may be supplied by a different company, since they don't have a brand name on them.

I buy bananas at all four stores, since the 69 cent store is the closest, and the 59 cent store the next closest.)
- 1:52 PM, 12 April 2018   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ross Douthat's New York Times column, "Why Not Mike Pence?", where Douthat argues that conservatives, especially religious conservatives, would be better off if Donald Trump were replaced by Mike Pence.

Douthat is right about that, but I don't see any way — now — to get there from here.

It is possible to imagine a Democratic House impeaching Trump, but it is hard to imagine a Senate, even one controlled by the Democrats, having a two-thirds majority in favor of conviction.

Unless, of course, there are even more sensational revelations, and there might be.

(Douthat mentions how close the 1976 presidential election was; if you check the table here, you'll see that Jerry Ford could have won it with small vote shifts in just two states.  He lost Ohio by less than 12,000 votes and Hawaii by less than 8,000.)
- 10:09 AM, 12 April 2018   [link]

Bananas May Be Better Than Sports Drinks:   According to a new study.

Sponsored by Dole, which will bother some, but not me, assuming the facts are as reported.
- 7:51 PM, 12 April 2018   [link]

If You Aren't A Trumpista, and you like puns, you'll like this cartoon.
- 7:37 AM, 12 April 2018   [link]

The Latest National Report Card Is Out:  And the grades are not encouraging.
Reading and math proficiency isn’t improving for fourth- and eighth-graders, according to the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as the “nation’s report card.”  The best students did better and the worst students did worse, widening achievement gaps.  Except for a slight uptick in eighth-grade reading since 2015, scores remained about the same.

It’s been a “lost decade” for educational progress, writes Mike Petrilli.
There are exceptions among the states, notably Florida.
- 3:48 PM, 11 April 2018   [link]

Thanassis Cambanis Thinks He Understands Assad's Logic:  And provides an answer to the question I posed on Monday.

Cambanis says that Assad staged the latest chemical attack to intimidate remaining rebels and demonstrate American weakness.
One result of Trump’s confusing Syria policy is that Assad and his backers can’t quite be sure what America is planning—a pullout or a pushback.  Hence another chemical attack, which will test the range of America’s response and, perhaps, will paint Trump into the same corner where Obama’s Syria policy languished.

For Assad, there is utility in such a feint, and no real risk.  In 2013, he and the rest of the region braced in fear for an expected American response, which was widely expected to jolt the regional state of affairs.  Assad has learned his lessons since then.  No meaningful American response will be forthcoming, no matter how hideous the war crime.  America remains deep in strategic drift, unsure of why it continues to engage in the Middle East, and prone to spasms of hyperactivity rather than sustained attention.
I won't say that I am fully persuaded by Cambanis's argument, but I do find it plausible, and definitely worth thinking about.

One consequence of the argument is that the United States is likely to continue doing what we were doing under Obama: prolonging the civil war in Syria, without changing the eventual outcome.

Cambanis article by way of Hot Air.
- 8:41 AM, 11 April 2018   [link]

This Driver's Ed Teacher understands teenage boys.
- 8:02 AM, 11 April 2018   [link]

That Was Fun:  Just in case you missed Senator Durbin's questions for Mark Zuckerberg.

Or want to hear them again,
- 7:41 PM, 10 April 2018   [link]

The FBI Raid On Trump's Lawyer Is A Big Deal:  So says Ken White, "a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles".
After a year of almost weekly revelations about Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, even indictments and guilty pleas of campaign officials have grown familiar.  It’s not that the special counsel, Mr. Mueller, is crying wolf; it’s that we’ve gotten used to real wolves.  Only truly startling developments engage a lot of us.

The F.B.I. search of the office, home and hotel room of Mr. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen is such a development.  It’s historic, even in the lofty context of a special counsel investigation of the president.
(I've read White's piece twice, first at Reason, and now in the Times, and plan to read it at least one more time.)

I see that Trump allies are claiming that Mueller is treating Cohen like a "mob lawyer".  I'm not sure that's an argument they really want to make.   After all, what kind of man needs a mob lawyer?
- 10:23 AM, 10 April 2018   [link]

"Pepper . . . And Salt" has a tax time cartoon that made me smile.
- 9:26 AM, 10 April 2018   [link]

Short-Term Setback, Long-Term Progress On Measles:  This New York Times story has both.

The setback:
Measles cases soared in Europe last year, and at least 35 children died of the highly infectious disease, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus found its way into pockets of unvaccinated children all over the continent, from Romania to Britain.  The number of recorded cases quadrupled, to 21,315 in 2017 from 5,273 in 2016, a record low.
The progress:
Despite setbacks in Europe, measles vaccine has led to a huge drop in global deaths from the disease.   In the 1980s, measles killed 2.6 million a year.  In 2016, for the first time since records were kept, deaths fell below 100,000.

In the last two decades, philanthropic donors have paid for 5.5 billion doses for poor countries.
Europe was affected even more than the United States by the recent anti-vaccine hysteria, and so has suffered more from measles, and other diseases.
- 11:14 AM, 9 April 2018   [link]

Why Would Assad Make A Chemical Attack — Now?  The report of a chemical attack in Syria left me puzzled.
At least 70 people have died in a suspected chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, rescuers and medics say.

Volunteer rescue force the White Helmets tweeted graphic images showing several bodies in basements. It said the deaths were likely to rise.

There has been no independent verification of the reports.
Assad is winning, and could have caused just as many casualties with conventional bombs or artillery, without anyone outside Syria caring much.

Does he value the terror aspect of chemical weapons so much that he was willing to risk another American attack?

Did he feel empowered by Trump's announcement that Trump wanted to pull American troops out of Syria?

What do Assad's Russian and Iranian allies think of this attack?

We are unlikely to have definitive answers to any of those questions soon, but if I do find any, I'll share them with you.

(It is, of course, possible, not likely but possible, that the attack was staged by the rebels,)
- 10:44 AM, 9 April 2018   [link]

Let's Hope This Campaign Tactic does not become more common.
- 10:03 AM, 9 April 2018   [link]